By TNFP's Growing Together Program Manager, Sally Rausch
While this year’s cold and rainy winter seemed unending, these sunny days and quickly rising temperatures are striking evidence that the growing season is among us! At The Nashville Food Project’s market garden, home to our Growing Together program, we’re seeing new growth all around. The cover crop is tall and flowering ready to be cut down and used as mulch or incorporated into the soil, leafy greens are getting bigger by the day, radishes are poking the tops of their heads out of the soil, and summer transplants are in the ground reminding us that tomato season is quickly approaching.
Every day I walk through the garden I see something new or changing. And just as the garden feels constantly in motion, so too is the Growing Together program itself evolving and growing. This year our program has exciting news to share -- the Growing Together farmers will be growing for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for the first time!
Currently, seven farmers participate in the Growing Together program, growing produce to sell through various markets around Nashville. All of these farmers came to Nashville as refugees from Burma and Bhutan and bring with them collective decades of agricultural experience and knowledge. This program is an opportunity for these farmers to practice their livelihood and their trade in a city with rapidly rising land costs, barriers to farming for so many who want to grow food, and in a state with some of the most historically anti-immigrant and refugee policies in the nation.
As this program has grown, the market outlets available in the program have as well. Two years ago, farmers primarily sold their produce at a weekly farmer’s market. Last year, farmers had more opportunities to sell through the online food hub Nashville Grown, a platform that connects local restaurants with local farmers. This additional market outlet allowed the farmers’ collective sales to nearly double from the previous year!
As Growing Together continues to evolve as a program, we look for ways the program can grow that will offer opportunities for farmers to gain increased control over their growing and marketing processes. This year, the farmers are selling their produce at the Richland Park Farmer’s Market every Saturday, weekly to restaurants such as Thistle Farms and Two Ten Jack, regularly to a variety of restaurants each week through Nashville Grown, and (for the first time this year) through an 8-week fall CSA!
You may be asking... why a CSA?
CSAs are quickly becoming more widespread around the country, as the local food movement becomes more popular. A CSA model connects customers with local farmers by offering customers the opportunity to purchase a “share” or investment in a farmer. Typically, a farmer will offer a certain number of “shares” to the public - a weekly box or bag of produce from their farm. Interested customers purchase a membership in the farm at the beginning of the season and then receive a share of produce each week during the CSA time frame. Many farmers like this model as it allows for deeper connection with customers throughout the season who have chosen to support a farmer despite the possibility of crop failure, weather, or other uncontrollable circumstances. This decreases the farmer’s risk, and farmers work hard to ensure that their “shareholders” are getting a variety of delicious vegetables each week with the comfort of knowing they have a reliable and steady market for them.
Further, in the CSA model, the Growing Together farmers have the opportunity to gain even more control over what they are growing to sell and what goes into the CSA share each week. This way, a farmer can grow the food they also want to eat and use these varieties to fill their CSA box, with leftovers going home to be cooked into delicious meals for the farmer and their family rather than going to waste.
While Growing Together is a collective of seven farmers, the CSA will provide an opportunity for each customer to be connected with one farmer throughout the season. Each week, the customer will receive a bag of vegetables grown and harvested by that farmer, creating the opportunity for the customer to get to know the farmer as well as learn more about vegetables that may be new to them.
Just as our gardens require time and attention to see these momentous changes throughout the season, so too does our work at The Nashville Food Project require evaluation and evolution to ensure that what we do is on the pathway towards building greater community food security – the Growing Together Fall CSA is just one stone in this path.
And… If 8 weeks of local, naturally grown produce excites you, we invite you to purchase a share! Customers are encouraged to sign up and pay for shares no later than June 15th, an up-front investment in the farmers’ success. The CSA will run from September 1 through October 20, with pick-up of shares each Saturday at the Richland Park Farmer’s Market between 9:30 am and 12:30 pm. Learn more and sign up here.